Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Shaddup Shuttin' Up.

Now that Congress is in recess, with the Senate soon to follow, congresspeople have gone home to their districts to meet with constituents and discuss healthcare reform. And those who are for it are getting ambushed right and left, as this Rachel Maddow video shows.

Legislators are being shouted down at their town hall meetings, unable to make themselves heard. Even regular people who support reform are getting shouted down. These confrontations aren't spontaneous, and they're not local. It’s all part of the lobbying group FreedomWorks' tactics to gin up an angry mob whenever there’s a forum to address legitimate questions by people who have doubts about the plan: Intimidate the speaker, intimidate the questioner, and just shut down conversation altogether.

Now, this tactic—reminiscent of Bill O’Reilly’s “Shut up! Shut up!” tirades before cutting off a caller’s microphone—may backlash. As Jonathan Martin points out, those angry people holding up pictures of a congressman in devil horns and signs with Nazi SS lettering look crazy, and may become prevalent enough to paint the whole anti-reform crowd with that brush. (See also: hanging congressmen in effigy.) So this whole thing might collapse upon itself like the teabaggers (FreedomWorks' last project).

But letting things go far enough for a backlash to happen naturally would be a mistake. Especially since things have already gotten so bad that Fox’s wild-eyed rabble-rouser Glenn Beck has had to remind people to avoid violence in these confrontations.

So what can be done?

We’ve had a couple days of these things, now, and we have their playbook, so we essentially know how they work. While I’d love the see a vigorous crowd supporting healthcare reform at these meetings (and they are there, they’re just not shouting), it’s troublesome to add anything to an angry mob—things could get ugly fast if fire were fought with fire.

There’s the Bush solution, of course: Pre-screen everyone who comes, keeping anyone who disagrees outside, like he did in the 2004 election. This is problematic for two reasons. First, you can pretty much depend on the fact that anything which can be called “the Bush solution” is a bad idea. And second, the whole point of civic discourse is to have a conversation. You can’t do that without people who disagree with you.

I like Kevin Drum’s suggestion: Announce beforehand that an organized group is trying to disrupt the meeting so citizens with legitimate questions and comments can’t be heard or answered. It won’t stop what follows, but it might change the way it’s perceived.

Of course, that’ll only work for the people actually in the room. TV news broadcasts are much more likely to just show the angry shouts and hand-painted protest signs, the more garish, the better. So there needs to be a strategy tying these events together, showing that they’re part of a pattern, and this pattern is bought and paid for by lobbyists working for anti-reform forces like the insurance and pharmaceutical industries who make tons of money as long as the status quo is preserved.

I’m curious as to how the Democrats and the White House push back against these tactics. The first step, I think, is getting the word out. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.


UPDATE: The White House is starting to respond.


christianready said...

Great writeup, Rob. I think the WH/Dem response is to make sure that this is the face of the lobbyists.

Americans are a generally moderate lot who really don't care for irrational extremes on either side (consider general reaction to PETA's campaigns as an example.)

Granted, it worked for them in 2000 but that was more or less the shock value at play. Now that we've seen this before and are seeing it again, I think it will have less impact.

Dave said...

the best thing about PETA protests are barely-clothed women. huzzah!

Figserello said...

I'll admit I don't know much about the US political scene, but what does healthcare for your loved ones have to do with the Nazi's?

Rob S. said...

Who knows, man? Or the devil.

I can understand the socialism critique if they want to go down that route. I don't agree with it, but I can understand it, because at least the things are pointing in the same direction, even if the degree is quite different.

But fascism? Nazism? Devilism?

These thugs just want to shut people up because they're on the losing side of an argument. It's *exactly* the same as when Bill O'Reilly cuts someone's mic in the middle of their conversation -- it's always because the caller has gotten the better of him, and O'Reilly wants to move on, just calling the speaker a "pinhead" and ignoring his point.

But there are no mics to cut off in this conversation, so the thugs have to keep shouting and shouting to drown us all out. Tantrum Republicans.